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Chen Withdraws from 39th District Congressional Race

Rafu Staff and Wire Reports

Jay Chen, a Democrat who had been seeking the 39th Congressional District seat, announced Tuesday that he is withdrawing from the race in order to improve the chances of a Democratic victory.

Jay Chen

The seat is currently held by Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), who is not seeking re-election, and part of a national effort by the Democratic Party to flip enough GOP-held districts to take control of the House of Representatives. Chen, a member of the Mount San Antonio College Board of Trustees, previously ran against Royce in 2012.

Chen issued the following statement:

“We have a unique opportunity to flip Congressional District 39 and restore accountability to Washington, D.C. I believe my experience, values, and roots in the district make me the best candidate to represent this community. That is why I waged an uphill battle in 2012 to flip this seat, and it is why I entered the 2018 race.

“I am humbled that so many have supported my candidacy, including delegates of the Democratic Party, Indivisible CA39, Progressive 39th, and leaders such as Congresswoman Judy Chu, Congressman Mark Takano, Supervisor Janice Hahn, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, Assemblyman Ian Calderon, and so many others.

“But the reality is that with the top-two open primary system in California and a crowded field, the path for a Democratic victory is a narrow one. As of now, nine Democratic candidates and seven Republican candidates have filed for a primary in which Republican turnout may remain higher than Democratic turnout. The probability of two Republicans advancing in November, and Democrats squandering a historic opportunity, is real.

“We cannot let this chance slip by. The stakes are far too high, not just for our country, but also for a world that once looked to the United States as a beacon of hope and democracy. Instead, we are seeing a movement towards authoritarianism across the globe that is not just being condoned, but mimicked by the president of the United States. The Republican-controlled Congress has done nothing to stop this degradation, which is why we must flip Congress, and we cannot flip Congress unless Democrats win this seat.

“The greatest contribution I can make right now is to help consolidate the field, by stepping away from it. We cannot afford to let this seat slip away, and we must all put the greater good over personal ambition.

“This was not an easy decision to make. Polling and endorsements show that I am the strongest Democrat for the open primary. We have opened our office, hired staff, and made significant investments in this race. Many have upended their lives and made major contributions to see this campaign succeed. But after close consultation with mentors, friends, family and staff, we believe this difficult decision is the right decision, for us, for our district, and for the Democratic majority we need to guide our country.

“While I will not be on the ballot, I will stay involved. I look forward to using my platform as a community college trustee to continue the fight to make higher education more affordable, and student loans less crushing. I’ll continue to advocate for better care of our returning warriors so they can better transition to civilian life. As the recent shooting in Yountville has demonstrated, we must do more to assist our veterans with PTSD, and we must do more protect our community from gun violence.

“Finally, I look forward to continuing my work as an intelligence officer in the United States Navy Reserves, where I can serve alongside sailors who have taken the same oath candidates take, to protect and defend our Constitution.

“Locally, we must fight hard for Democratic representation in District 39. We must oppose the recall on State Sen. Josh Newman. Most importantly, we must support good local candidates for critical local seats and strengthen our pipeline of experienced and qualified Democratic public servants, so that progressive voices can guide our government.

“I want to thank my wife Karen, all of my supporters, and my team: Eugene, Robbie, Fiona, Emily, Derek and Shan. Should our efforts to flip the 39th fall short this time, I will re-engage for 2020. In the meantime, we all have important work to do.”

Support for Decision

Reps. Chu (D-Pasadena) and Takano (D-Riverside) issued a joint statement:

“As Asian American leaders in Congress, we were very excited when Jay Chen announced his candidacy for the 39th Congressional District.

“As the only Democratic candidate in this race that has ever run or held local office, and as the candidate that has lived in the district the longest, we are confident that Jay Chen is the best fit for this district. This is why we wholeheartedly endorsed his candidacy, and why Jay has garnered the grassroots support and key endorsements in this race. Congress is not an entry-level job, and Jay has shown the commitment to service and community that we need in Washington, D.C.

“Winning the 39th District is key to Democratic chances to retake the House and stand up to President Donald Trump. Trump’s unpopular presidency has led to an unprecedented number of first-time candidates running across the country, including Southern California. While we are excited about the enthusiasm, we are also aware that with California’s top-two primary system, large numbers of Democratic candidates could split the vote and send two Republicans to the general election. District 39 faces that dilemma.

“Jay Chen’s personal decision not to run, so that the Democratic vote can be consolidated instead of fractured, is a remarkable sacrifice for a greater cause that further speaks to his character. We applaud his selfless commitment to public service and thank all of his supporters who have backed him thus far. We believe this is the right decision and we look forward to supporting Jay again in the future.”

The filing period for the district ended March 15 with 20 would-be candidates completing the filing process. Election officials will determine if each individual has submitted enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. The official list of candidates is scheduled to be released by the Secretary of State’s Office on March 29.

The seven Republicans to complete filing include Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson; former Assemblymember Young Kim, who has been endorsed by Royce; former State Sen. Bob Huff; La Mirada City Councilmember Andrew Sarega; and Brea City Councilmember Steve Vargas.

Assemblymember Phillip Chen, former Assemblymember Ling Ling Chang, and Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel, who have been mentioned as possible Republican candidates, will not be on the ballot.

The nine Democrats to complete the filing process include health educator and entrepreneur Andy Thorburn; Gil Cisneros, an education advocate who won a record $266 million in the Mega Millions lottery in 2010; Sam Jammal, who worked in the Commerce Department during the Obama Administration and was associate manager and regulatory counsel for electric carmaker Tesla in 2017; and Harvard-educated pediatrician Mai Khanh Tran.

Another Democrat who had begun the filing process, Phil Janowicz, the CEO of an education consulting firm, has announced he will not be a candidate.

There are two candidates without a party preference and two from the American Independent Party.

The top two finishers in the June 5 primary, regardless of party, will face off in the November general election.

The 39th District covers parts of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino counties, including Fullerton, La Habra, La Habra Heights, Brea, Buena Park, Anaheim Hills, Placentia, Yorba Linda, Diamond Bar, Chino Hills, Hacienda Heights, and Rowland Heights.

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